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K-9 Prodigy

Unleash the genius in your dog

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Questions from Class Series - #1

Posted on 19 April, 2017 at 12:33 Comments comments ()
Last night kicked off spring term's Beginning Obedience Level 1 class. We're off and running! Classes are full of good questions, and I have the idea to make a running series of blog posts highlighting a question from each night's class.

So we'll jump right in!

Context: We were practicing "automatic attention" -- where the dog looks at you and pays attention to you (without you needing to give an attention command) in distracting or novel situations. For beginners, this is done by waiting for the dog to look at you, then marking "Yes!" and treat.

Question: "My dog is looking at me, but he's also jumping up. He's looking at me AS he's jumping up! So do I reward it because it's attention, or do I *not* reward it because it's jumping up?"

This is a FANTASTICALLY GOOD QUESTION. I looked over, and sure enough, her Chihuahua was leaping into the air as he looked at her. The jump and the look were truly happening at the same time, so there was no possibility of "just try to mark really quickly, after he's looked but before he's jumped." There are risks either way you look at it here -- if you *don't* reward the attention/jumping up, you will lose the jumping up -- but you also might lose the attention. If you *do* reward it, you will keep the attention -- but you might also keep the jumping up.

I think that to answer this question, you have to know what's more important to you at this very specific moment. Is it more important that the dog is giving you attention, or is it more important that the dog is not jumping up? Jumping up is obviously an unfortunate habit that can be hard to break, and we definitely don't want to be giving cookies for it... but attention is possibly THE most important foundation skill a dog can have. Trainers have to make this kind of decision all the time, and you will too! I ultimately said for now, go ahead and DO reward. Here are some of the factors that went into my decision.

1) It is usually possible to slowly shape away the bouncing while keeping the attention.
2) The high activity, energy and fun level is something that I want to keep in the dog; it actually will figure in waaaay down the road when weaning off treats.
3) In this complex environment (obedience class) I want the dog to be successful at something right away. If he were to check out and give up now, we would not have a good tone set for the rest of the course.
4) A plethora of "four-on-the-floor," non-jumping, polite greeting, and other calm-related lessons are coming up very soon on the agenda and we can use those to also tone down and reduce his general bounciness.

So, in this case DO reward, but with the following qualifications: 1) When you treat, do it calmly and low on the ground -- treat delivery is highly influential to how the dog ultimately performs the behavior, and 2) Keep a very close eye for non-jumping check-ins (I promise, they do happen somewhere and you can catch them, reward them, and keep them) -- soon you will be getting a mix of jumping ones and non-jumping ones, at which point you can reward only the non-jumping ones.

Again, great question! How would you all handle this with *your* dog? Remember, answers may vary, depending on the dog!

Environment Case Study #1

Posted on 10 March, 2016 at 14:12 Comments comments ()
As a follow-up to yesterday's post, I wanted to start case-studying a few different dogs in the string and talk about my decisions as to what environments my dogs are currently working and the decision processes that go into selecting the training environments. Every dog is different and I'm going to select for the case studies dogs that I think will be the most educational.

First up for is Dog A, a 7-month-old male black lab.His obedience work progressed very rapidly in the house, even though he was only about 3 months old when he started. (This is "Environment 1-A" from the last blog post.) I think we spent about a week introducing all the commands in the home environment (introducing the commands is actually the easy part! it goes faster than you'd think!) and then he was able to transition outside, to the the front yard (Environment 1-D). For this dog we had some technical difficulty with this environment, because of the heavy traffic just outside the house. We tried nearby in a big open space where they frequently walked (Environment 2) and he nailed that in a single session, so it was already time to start thinking about new environments and distractions!

We settled on Jamison Park in the NW Pearl District for Environment 3 (Familiar, medium-high distraction. Note: the first time we went there it was not yet "familiar," but by continuing to return to this environment it became familiar.) Training chugged along and seemed a big slow here as we spent weeeeeeeks doing loose leash walking, rehearsing basic obedience, and working dog distractions (his biggest challenge) and friendly stranger distractions.

As he started to get better and better at Trenton Park, we would spend 10 or so minutes of each session working Novel Low-Distraction Environments (Environment 4.) This was basically just sidewalks around Jamison Park which we had never walked on. "Novel" environments are so important because often dogs behave perfectly well in areas where they have practiced a lot but then have trouble doing it elsewhere.

Jamison Park worked fairly well as an Environment 3. The only problem I had with it was that all the other dog owners/walkers were so social with their dogs. I like to teach dogs that they do not get to meet every dog; they can meet them if they are behaving and if I say so. But it was hard to get other dog owners not to let their dogs play with this friendly adorable Lab! 

After we'd "used up" Jamison Park (it was so easy for him, he could do everything) we chose a different Familiar Medium-High Distraction Environment -- the downtown waterfront. The first time we went, it was also a Novel Environment for him and I was thrilled at how easily he settled in! In this location I found it much easier to practice his dog distraction work, as most of the dogs on the waterfront are jogging with their owners and do not expect to visit with everybody. So the dog distraction work is coming right along; we've been working here for about two weeks now and are just about ready to move on and start on the most difficult one, Novel Medium-High Distraction! (Environment 5.)

It should also be noted that at one point over the last couple of months, there was a problem at home with the puppy stealing things and running away with them, so for about a week we stopped working environments and returned to home base (Environment 1) where we worked on "Drop it" and interrupting attempts to steal items. It went really smoothly.

Stay tuned for more featured dogs!

Cues Vs Commands Part II

Posted on 20 May, 2015 at 13:40 Comments comments ()
Remember this video from yesterday? We were talking about "cues" versus "commands" when working with dogs, and I was saying how for this dog, in training for autism work, his trained support pressure needs to be reliable when the handler needs it, *not* when she can rationally and logically command him to do it.

So, is this dog (it's Rocco, by the way, a talented Golden Retriever) responding to a "cue" or to a "command?" If so, what is it? And how do you train such a thing??? (I know! I promised you yesterday that I'd tell you!)

First off, this dog is working off environmental cues. An environmental cue is when the environment or something that happens in the environment happens and then the dog responds in a certain way. This might sound really rare and challenging, but actually it happens all the time. For example, take your dogs leash off the hook, and your dog might start bouncing and spinning all over the place! Not the behavior that you want, but it's something you may have inadvertently trained your dog to do -- on an environmental cue!

Rocco's environmental cues for this are 1) "yelling", and 2) the handler "falls out" of connection with the dog. Yelling is obvious, but "falling out" of connection with the dog means that the handler stops focusing on the dog, changes focus, may drop the leash or just holds onto the end, and basically leaves the dog to its own devices. You'll see in this video that at one point he ends up tangled in his own leash and the handler (that's me handling, by the way -- aren't I a good actress? LOL) does not even notice. An experienced service dog will notice when that that happens and start working to bring the handler back, even before there's escalation to yelling.

How did we train that?

First off, we had to make sure that Rocco was comfortable working around yelling, angry voices. Most dogs (and most people) do not like this. We used a technique called "classical conditioning" to make sure that Rocco not only tolerated yelling, but actually perked up when he heard it and trotted off to seek it out. He will also be monitored for life to ensure that he's not developing stress, disliking his job, or experiencing any other burn-out type symptoms (similar to the need for social workers and ER doctors to carefully monitor their own mental health.)

Rocco was taught a shoulder target to hip and then target/lean. We used a technique called "capturing" to train this behavior. With capturing, you basically just wait until the dog does something on its own, then reward it. Rocco had a lot of trouble with this part, because he's used to being in heel position or at least to politely avoid crowding and pushing the handler, so this step took a while.

But once he could do the target, we added a "transitional" cue so that we could get better control of the behavior while we worked to put it on environmental cue. The transitional cue is that left arm of mine sort of sticking out and diagonally towards the ground. Do you see it in the video? It's subtle. This gives him a "space" to move in and do his target. 

Once he was doing it on the transitional cue, time to move up to the final environmental cue. You always follow the same technique to introduce a new cue -- it goes 1) New cue 2) Known cue 3) Behavior 4) Reward! So, for Rocco, it went: 1) Yell 2) arm cue 3) Behavior 4) Petting.

In this video, we're transitioning off the transitional cue (ummm...I think that makes sense?) So there's very little transitional cue, just enough to "help" Rocco if he needs it, because you always want a dog in training to succeed. That builds confidence. I want Rocco to believe down to his very core that he can ALWAYS be successful at this task.

Other little tidbits to look for in the video are helping him problem-solve (could he get himself out of his tangled leash, with no handler help, and still come back to work?), monitoring stress (the "shake-off" after he got out of the leash tangle was probably a stress sign, showing that he found the entanglement uncomfortable or scary -- like I said we monitor him for stress, but service dogs have a stressful occupation ahead of them and do need to be able to handle stress, so a minor stressor like this one would have strengthened him, not weakened him), increasingly long petting times with awkward handler movement (the very last one, draping my full body over him), and practicing taskwork in a variety of locations (this was actually his first time doing this out "in public.") So there are lots of different elements of training going on here!

Interested in environmental cues? TRY THEM AT HOME! Remember that dog of yours who leaps and spins when you get the leash out? Why don't you put a "sit" on environmental cue of "leash comes out?"

Try this:

1) Pick up the leash. [This will be the environmental cue.]
2) Cue "Sit" (verbal or hand signal) [This will be the transitional cue.]
3) Dog sits.
4) "Good dog!" as you leash up.

Do that for a couple of walks. On maybe the 4th or 5th walk, drop your transitional cue, so it goes:

1) Pick up the leash. [Environmental cue.]
2) Pause and wait a few seconds, looking expectantly at your dog.
3) Dog sits.
4) "Good dog!" as you leash up.

If your dog has trouble sitting right away when you drop the "sit" cue, give him a few seconds to think about it. (Yes, it sometimes takes some moments for the wheels to start turning in their adorable little heads!) If after 3-4 seconds the dog still isn't sitting, then "help" the dog by cue "sit." Praise and leash, then try again!

There are endless possibilities for environmental cueing! Think of some! Let me know if you have any questions!

The Training Diaries: "Oakley"

Posted on 6 October, 2014 at 16:17 Comments comments ()
We just finished up a month of training with "Oakley." His owner videoed bits and pieces of some of our session and gave permission to me to use them on my website! I thought I'd use them to describe a case study for training. What can I say about Oakley? There's a TON OF GOOD STUFF about this nice young pit bull.
His strengths include: An absolute love of training. He loves to "do" stuff. He loves to engage with his owner. He loves to earn rewards. He's wicked-smart. He's got a ton of energy and stamina. His focus is usually pretty good!

His weaknesses include: Unfortunately, this working ethic, energy level and drive began to manifest itself in attention-barking and other attention-seeking behavior. From Oakley's perspective, this was great! If he was mildly bored/ there wasn't anything going on, he'd simply get in the owner's face and BARK BARK BARK until she felt it necessary to break out the treats and work on some training to resolve this issue.

Here's what was going on:

Oakley: BARK BARK BARK!!!!
Owner: (gets the treats out) "Lie down."
Oakley: Does a beautiful "down" on verbal cue; gets rewarded by lots of treats!

Now, Oakley's owner is no dummy! She knew what Oakley was doing; and tried to stop it.

Owner: (thinking "I know what you're doing, Oakley. It's not going to work this time." Correctly ignores the attention-seeking behavior.)
Oakley: BARK BARK BARK!!! That's not working? Then HUMP YOUR LEG!!!
Owner: (can not let this behavior continue, HAS to interrupt the behavior) "Stop it, Oakley!"
Oakley: (thinking "Well, I didn't get the treats but at least I got some attention! Positive attention, negative attention, I don't care! ANY attention is better than no attention!")

Also, Oakley loves other dogs. LOVES OTHER DOGS!!! For a pit bull (a breed historically bred to fight other dogs) this always makes me smile. But his "love" for other dogs was coming out in the same way that his "love" for his owner's attention and training came out -- i.e., way over-the-top and totally inappropriate. He'd see another dog and immediately launch himself into All Play All The Time. This happened immediately, within seconds. Within nanoseconds! Then he played so roughly, in their small apartment, that he'd bash into furniture and knock things off tables. (Once he literally almost overturned the full-size refrigerator. True story. I saw it.) He didn't seem to notice or care if the other dog was interested in playing. If he couldn't get a reaction from another dog, he'd keep going until he GOT a reaction. Even if there were three or four people in the room, nobody could stop him. Nothing could stop Oakley from PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY PLAY.

All of Oakley's friends and playmates are affable, good-natured dogs. They put up with his "playing," sort of. Most other dogs would never tolerate being body-slammed and then grabbed around the neck! In these videos, you see good-natured, sweet Apollo the Black Lab. A couple of times, he "sorta, kinda" tried to tell Oakley off. But Oakley, in true Oakley form, is not particularly responsive to these "sorta, kinda" requests. Apollo, too good-natured to REALLY insist, eventually takes refuge on top of the sofa, behind his owner. At which point Oakley usually climbs UP AND OVER whatever human in his way (and Oakley weighs at least 70 pounds!) Ouch!

Wow! What do we do, with a dog like Oakley?

My first NUMBER ONE priority will be to keep his "dog-friendly" attitude intact. After all, pit bulls have a long and sad history of not being dog-friendly. Oakley's intentions are all positive! And we need to preserve this! So any consequences for unwanted/hassling/pestering/inappropriate behavior will NOT be punished with harsh consequences. ("Harsh" consequences include leash jerks, hanging, helicoptering, electric shocks, spraying with water, making scary sounds, hitting or kicking.) If I were to use any of these harsh consequences, I would run the serious risk of causing Oakley to associate these severe punishments with the presence of the other dog. For example, if Oakley saw and approached Apollo, and I interrupted and alpha-rolled him, then the next time he saw the other dog he would automatically feel anxious and defensive (about the alpha roll.) This anxious/defensive state could be taken out on the other dog! Full-on dog aggression is the potential.

BUT I do need to let Oakley know that this approach and behavior toward other dogs is not appropriate and will not be tolerated in the house. Luckily, Oakley has a good solid obedience foundation including a pretty good come-when-called. We also taught him a "settle" command which basically means "go lie down on your bed." Obedience practice with rewards was done in the presence of the other dog, and gave Oakley a new thing to "do" instead of immediately body-slam the other dog and start playing. [Note: In the video, you will see the trainer doing lure-reward training with both dogs very near each other. Do not do this if either dog has any history or problems with guarding its food or other types of resource guarding! You should do this kind of exercise only if you know that both dogs do not guard food!] If Oakley remained calm and focused on the trainer, he could participate in his beloved training and earn treats. If he chose, however, to roughhouse or bark instead, he was given a time-out. Our verbal "Uh-uh" was Oakley's cue that if he didn't stop the chaos, he'd have to go into his time-out. He got really good at time-outs.

Oakley was wearing a drag line (also called a "house line") so that we could collect him if things got too out of hand, or we could interrupt him if he suddenly broke a down-stay. During several training sessions, we'd bring another dog in and gradually let Oakley have more and more freedom in the house. If he remained calm, he could stay in the living room with everybody. If he got too wild, time-out. My favorite way to train the "no wild playing in the house" rule is to alternate the calm house periods with fun, running-based play in the yard -- this way it is clear to the dog that running/wild play is permitted OUTside, but not inside. In Oakley's case, there wasn't much of a yard available, so he'd just have to make do in the house.

You'll see Oakley's progress in the attached videos. We also started him on the sport of K9 Nosework (you'll see this on the videos), because super-smart dogs like Oakley need a job! He also learned to accept his owner's decisions of when attention and training was available to him, and when it was not. Oakley was free to "request" attention and interaction, but if the answer was "Not now," then he needed to accept that, and continued or escalating barking, humping, grabbing, etc was also timed out. By the end of his month, he was willing to simply wander off, lie down, and chew a toy. On our last session, I don't think he even barked once!

And he still loves other dogs!

And the furniture is still mostly standing!

Here are a selection of videos! (you'll probably have to cut and paste this into a new screen.)